Cucumbers are one of the less finicky producers in a summer garden. With the right conditions, they tend to grow rather quickly and will be ripe and ready to eat within six weeks. Obtaining the right conditions for a long cuke over a stunted, rounded or crumpled one isn't that difficult if you pay attention to the details.
Know the Type of Cucumber You're Getting
You can choose vining cucumbers, perfect for container gardening or small gardens, or bush cucumbers. A vining cucumber loves a trellis to hold onto as it searches for higher ground with tiny tendrils. These are easier to pick and can be more prolific in their production than the bush variety. There are three main types to choose from: pickling, burpless (a less bitter variety) and slicing. Choose one that works best with your temperature and sun exposure. Your local gardening group or collective will be able to tell you the exact best cucumber to grow in your area and may also hook you up with the proper fertilizer to get them growing long and green rather than stout, spotted and curled. Some cucumbers were bred to be different, round or bulbous, such as the lemon cucumber, which looks like a tennis ball with stripes. Know what to expect when you choose your cucumber so you don't panic if it leans more toward yellow, such as the tasty Chinese yellow cucumber.
Why Cucumbers Become Round
If you notice your cucumber becoming misshapen before it's ready to pick, there are a few ways to remedy the situation. Cucumbers need a lot of water, as well as good drainage, to keep them perky and perfectly formed over the weeks of growing. If you notice your cucumbers beginning to bend, check your fertilizer. A good rule for a fertilizer is a 10-7-7 mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Ensure that they aren't struggling to find sun exposure. If they have to work to get at least six hours of full sun, they may get weak and have a hard time producing. If the temperatures get to boiling, it can kill pollen and keep your crop from getting proper pollination. You can take a small paint brush and spread the pollen from bloom to bloom to give your plant a boost.
How to Grow Great Cucumbers
You can start cucumbers by seed indoors three to four weeks before you plan to put them in the ground. Once the soil is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you can transplant your seedlings or put seeds straight in the ground. Don't crowd your cukes. Plant seeds 36 inches apart at least as they like to spread their umbrella-like leaves. Vines can be placed a foot apart if they have a trellis to lean on.
Cucumbers love it loose, so don't pack them into tight spots with hard soil. A nice, light sandy soil is preferred. A good mix of compost worked into the top two inches of the soil before planting will make the soil a happy home for cucumbers. If you have clay soil, you can add peat or compost to make it more hospitable. Add more compost to your soil after new shoots appear, about a month after initial planting.
Make sure the area you plant in has good drainage because cucumbers do not like to get their feet wet and are susceptible to root rot if left in standing water for too long.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.